The Southwest coast of Florida is not only famous for some of the best shelling in the world, we also seem to have the market cornered on sunsets. The proof is in the many photographs on Facebook and Instagram. I’m quite sure that my wife, JoNell’s shell collection only slightly outnumbers the amount of sunset photos she has in albums and saved on electronic media. OK, I’m also guilty.
I’ve lived on the west coast of Florida most of my life and I, like many other Floridians, am a sucker for a good sunset. The invention of the cell phone camera has drastically compounded the amount of photos that I take and continue to keep. It’s hard to delete them since they are all pretty much unique. No two sunsets are the same.
In defense of my bad habit I must say it revolves around a phenomena called the green flash which most often occurs at sunset over the water. Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing and only those that have never seen it, doubt it. I’ve been lucky enough to witness it several times, but that most likely comes with spending a lot of time on the water doing sunset cruises.
It happens quickly, just as the sun disappears from view on the horizon. Scientists say that it’s caused by the refraction of sunlight on the horizon as the atmosphere bends the light, much like a prism or the way sun combined with rainfall causes rainbows. No matter the reason, it is spectacular. Sometimes it’s just a blip of green light and other times it’s a flash that last for several seconds. Once witnessed it’s never forgotten.
I must break some bad news to the many visitors we have during the winter months. Our sunsets are not as spectacular in the winter as they are in the summer. Winter is our dry season and summer is wet. During the summer we have an abundance of clouds formed during our almost daily afternoon thunderstorms. They build up in the east and then move towards the Gulf of Mexico. As they start to wane, the lightning and thunder stops, but the huge cumulous clouds remain. When the sun moves toward the horizon it lights up the remaining storm clouds in a sometimes spectacular display of what I like to call “surround sunsets.”
Unfortunately winter skies are almost cloudless which, in my opinion, makes the sunsets somewhat bland and the same ol’ same ol’ each evening. However, the odds of seeing the green flash are much better in the winter. The lack of clouds and less moisture in the air seems to help create the much sought after flash of green light.
Just about any beach along our coastline is good for viewing the sun dropping into the Gulf of Mexico. I personally like Lovers Key, Fort Myers Beach and the western side of Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Keep in mind that Sanibel is a boot shaped island with the foot of the boot running east and west. Certain times of the year the sun hitting the water can’t be seen from locations along those beaches.
I’m often asked where the best spot is to view a Gulf sunset. I’ve mentioned my beach favorites, but going on a sunset cruise offered by many of our charter groups and captains is probably the best. Not only are you guaranteed a front row seat, but you’ll also likely see dolphins, who love to play at sunset, and the many flocks of seabirds headed for their nighttime roosting spots. Add a little champagne to that and you have the perfect end to a perfect day.
Captain Rob Modys is a lifetime Florida outdoorsman and retired spin & fly fishing guide. He is past president and board chairman of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and serves on the board of the Florida Guides Association.